The genuine recognition of Kurdish cultural identity is a means to stop terrorism by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, according to a group of former soldiers and diplomats. They have also called for positive engagement with the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq.

Bilge Adamlar Stratejik Arastirmalar Merkezi, or BILGESAM, (Wise Men’s Center for Strategic Studies) a think tank formed by retired soldiers, ambassadors and academics, released a report yesterday on Turkey’s current situation and future challenges.

Penned by retired Ambassador Ilter Türkmen, a former minister of foreign affairs, the report identified the Kurdish problem as Turkey’s main challenge. "For years, there has been an avoidance of a realistic prognosis to the problem and a continuing belief that the only problem is PKK terrorism supported from outside," read the report. "Total or near total elimination of terrorism necessitates an immediate implementation of a series of economic, social, cultural and psychological measures based on a political vision."

While identifying the unity of the state as the main element of that vision, the report emphasized that the implementation of regional economic and social projects did not contradict with the unitary nature of the state.

Resolution of the Kurdish problem within the unity of the state depends on genuine recognition of the problem, according to the report, which called for the elimination of the obstacles in implementing Kurdish language use. "Although the legal framework has changed forbidding the use of Kurdish, the ban continues as far as implementation is concerned," read the report.

The think tank report endorsed Salim Dervisoglu, former commander of maritime forces, and Sönmez Köksal, former chief of Intelligence, who called for the following: Administrative rules preventing the use of Kurdish outside of official meetings or talks should end.

Where there is such a demand there should be Kurdish language courses.

Kurdish Institutes should be allowed to operate.

The report also argued for the merit of having ethnic parties in the parliament with the implication that it will be wrong to close the pro Kurdish Democrtatic Society Party.

Relations with Northern Iraq

The report emphasized that it would be unrealistic to ignore the entity in northern Iraq while dealing with the domestic Kurdish problem. "It should not come as a surprise that the emergence near our border of a half-independent Kurdish administration with rich natural resources will have an effect on developments in Turkey," read the report, calling for a more constructive, rather than confrontational, relationship with the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq.

As long as PKK terrorism continues it will be rather difficult to avoid tension in relations and it would be unrealistic to expect a massive military intervention in the Kurdish Regional Administration to finish off the PKK, the report said. "For this reason, relations with the region should be pursued on two tracks, cooperation and security," read the report.

"It is not easy to foresee whether the entity in northern Iraq will achieve independence. Independence looks quiet difficult. But it will be more autonomous," said Türkmen at the press conference to introduce the report. "Many countries are starting to have relations with northern Iraq. Several countries, Iran among them, have a consulate in Arbil, whereas Turkey has no diplomatic representation in that city. It is clear that Turkey has still not determined a clear strategy," he said.

On the issue of the Armenian claims of genocide, the report calls for the creation of an environment in which the problem can be pushed to the background over time.

Türkmen said Armenians will not stop their claims of genocide and there is no possibility for the Turkish side to directly or indirectly accept those claims. While the report called for concrete development on the process of reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia before April, it also called for avoiding parallelism between history and the state, instead focusing on more pluralism in history.

Ex soldiers, diplomats on board

Although BILGESAM brings together a group of former soldiers and ambassadors with prominent academics, Dr. Atillan Sandikli, the president of the think tank, himself a former soldier, emphasized the independence of the organization. Salim Dervisoglu, the president of the advisory board, also a former soldier, said BILGESAM was not close to any political party and that it did not act on the behest of any institution. Sandikli said, businessmen were sponsoring the activities of BILGESAM.

BILGESAM Advisory Board

Former Commander of Maritime forces Admiral Salim Dervisoglu

Former Foreign Minister, retired ambassador Ilter Türkmen

Former Interior Minister and Governor Kutlu Aktas

Retired Commander General Oktar Ataman

Retired vice admiral Sabahattin Ergin

Honorary president of Court of Appeals Professor Sami Selçuk

Former undersecretary of the ministry of foreign affairs and retired ambassador Özdem Sanberk

Former director of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and retired ambassador Sönmez Köksal

Former Undersectretary for State Planning Organization Professor Orhan Güvenen

Retired ambassador Güner Öztek

Retired ambassador Yaman Baskut

Professor Nur Vergin

Professor Ilter Turan

Professor Ersin Onulduran

ProfessorAli Karaosmanoglu

Professor Çelik Kurdoglu

Hürriyet Daily News